New Kansas redistricting town halls set for November — what JoCo residents need to know

Kansas redistricting

Kansas lawmakers attended an in-person town hall in August at the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park, one of 14 such meetings held at that time to take input about redistricting. A new round of events will be held virtually in late November, with residents given a chance to submit written testimony or make oral remarks through computers at physical sites. File image.

Kansas lawmakers will host a second round of town halls in late November aimed at taking public input on the upcoming process for redrawing state legislative and Congressional district boundaries.

Unlike the first round of town halls in August, which were held in person, lawmakers during this new round of events will attend virtually.

Residents will be able to submit written testimony beforehand or can opt to speak to lawmakers through computers at designated sites in each of Kansas’ four Congressional districts.

Some details are not yet finalized, but here is what Johnson County residents need to know if they are interested in attending or submitting testimony:

Where and when are the closest town hall locations? 

  • Bonner Springs in Wyandotte County and Stilwell, in far southeast Johnson County, will be the two locations where residents of Kansas’ Third Congressional District can show up in person to give oral testimony.
  • Those two sites will host in-person testimony concurrently on Tuesday, Nov. 30, from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
  • An exact location for each in-person site has not yet been released by the committee in charge of redistricting.

If I want to attend in person and give testimony, what do I need to do? 

  • Residents who would like to give oral testimony in person at either of the two sites above are asked to notify legislative staff at least 24 hours in advance of the scheduled town hall.
  • You can register to make comments by emailing the Kansas Legislative Research Department at redistricting@klrd.ks.gov, or calling 785-296-3181.
  • When registering, you’re asked to indicate in which district meeting you will be participating and whether you will provide input virtually or in which public location.
  • If you want to make in-person remarks, you’re asked to be “concise” because time will be limited.

What if I’d rather submit written testimony online?

  • Written testimony can be submitted at any point ahead of the 2022 legislative session, which begins in January.
  • You can submit written testimony by emailing redistricting@klrd.ks.gov and flagging your submission as “written only.”
  • For your written testimony, you are asked to include your name, your affiliation (if any), your contact information and the date and location of the meeting at which the testimony is to be presented, at the top of the first page. Then, add an identifier to subsequent pages.

What if I can’t attend but want to watch? 

  • The new round of town halls will be livestreamed, according to the committee in charge of redistricting.
  • The committee in charge of redistricting streamed the last round of town halls on its YouTube page here.

Will this be my last chance to give input about redistricting? 

  • Most likely, yes.
  • This latest round of town halls was scheduled, in part, because some lawmakers and residents criticized the process for the first round of town halls, arguing that the schedule in August was too compressed and each town hall too short to allow for a full accounting of public opinion.
  • Again, if you miss the in-person events, you can submit written testimony through the end of the year.
  • To read the testimony that has already been submitted by other residents, you can go here and here.

What’s at stake?

  • This is a once-in-a-decade process to redraw state legislative and Congressional district boundaries, which in turn, could impact citizens’ representation in Topeka and Washington, D.C.. for the next 10 years.
  • There was already some controversy over redistricting before lawmakers launched the town hall tour in August. Last year, outgoing Republican Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said the GOP needed to maintain its supermajorities in the legislature in 2020 (which the party ended up doing), so it could control the redistricting process in order to redraw the state’s Third Congressional District to make it harder for Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids to win reelection.
  • That has been the backdrop to flaps over this year’s town hall schedule, which Democrats say is proof Republicans are trying to rush the process. Republicans in charge of the legislative redistricting committee say the schedule has afforded ample opportunity for the public to share their thoughts.

What happens after the town halls?

  • After public input, it will be up to the state legislature to redraw new district maps when it convenes for its 2022 session.
  • Gov. Laura Kelly will have to approve whatever plan the legislature forwards to her desk, but with supermajorities in the state House and Senate, Republicans will have the ability to override any potential veto.
  • The last time redistricting occurred in 2011, lawmakers were not able to come up with a plan, and a federal court had to step in and draw the boundaries that are still currently in use.

Do we know what the 2020 Census found?

  • The August round of town halls was held before much data from the 2020 Census had been released, which was another point of criticism about those events.
  • Data released since then has shown that most Kansas counties lost population over the past 10 years and that population growth in the state was concentrated in urban and metropolitan areas, including Johnson County, which grew by 12% since 2010.
  • The goal of of redistricting is to balance the populations of each of the state’s four Congressional districts, with each district having roughly 734,000 people. With population declining in rural parts of the state and growing in urban and suburban areas, that could definitely impact the boundaries of the Third District.